What Does a Racehorse Trainer Do? All the Facts You Need.


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After the excitement of purchasing our first racehorse subsided, we had to decide who was going to be the trainer? We bought him before we chose his trainer. So I researched the role of racehorse trainers.

A successful racehorse trainer must win races and be able to run a business, while supervising staff, planning strategy, and maintaining relationships with owners, jockeys, and racetrack officials.

In deciding on a racehorse trainer, it’s essential to gather as much information as possible and know about trainers in general. You are turning over responsibility for your investment to this person.

What is a racehorse trainer?

Based on his background and experience, a racehorse trainer is an expert in racehorse care and maintenance. That’s the definition, in a nutshell, but there is much more to his job.

What steps are required to become a trainer? Do successful racehorse trainers possess certain traits? The first step in our journey to hire a racehorse trainer was to determine exactly what duties fell under his job title and what we can expect from him if he is hired.

What a racehorse trainer does.

Racehorse trainers ensure their horses are fit to race, teach it racing skills, manage staff, select races, and communicates with horse owners. A good horse trainer has to be not only good with horses but also good with people.

He will decide the horse’s training regimen and which drugs to administer. And, ultimately, they are primarily responsible for the care, condition, and health of their animal.

Before turning over your horse to a trainer, let’s look at the most common path a person follows to become a trainer.

Racehorse trainers have many obligations other than getting a horse ready to run. Some of these responsibilities are listed below:

1. Ensure horses are fit to race

He is under enormous pressure to win races. However, he must only run horses that are physically fit to race. New York and most other states that host horseracing has animal cruelty statutes in place that holds trainers liable for racing horses deemed unfit for racing.

“Working or racing a horse that is unfit for labor and causing it to break down is cruel under the New York anti-cruelty statute, Agriculture and Markets Law § 353.”  https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/agriculture-and-markets-law/agm-sect-353.html

2. Position the horse to be successful

To position a horse to be successful includes not only ensuring the horse is fit but also choosing the right race, pairing the right jockey with his horse, and making sure the horse is fitted with the proper racing gear.

3. Trainers have a fiduciary duty to each horse owner

He will have horses for numerous horse owners. To each owner, he has a separate fiduciary duty to act in good faith and for the benefit of the owners.

If he believes he has a conflict of interest in a race, he needs to notify the owners. Often a trainer is asked to purchase a horse for an owner. If a trainer has an interest in a horse being sold or purchased, he must notify all the owners.

Keep owner informed about their horse’s health

A trainer is under an obligation to notify the owner of any illnesses or injuries the owner’s horse may have suffered.

Keep an accurate accounting

A trainer must provide reliable and prompt accounting to the owners.

Keep up to date on racing regulations

A trainer has a duty to know the race rules for any track he has a horse running.

Know the medications being used on horses under his care

A trainer has a duty to only use medication for a horse that is approved by the racing commission and state laws.

Be honest

A trainer has a duty to be honest with the owners who have entrusted their horse in his care.

4. Manage staff

A trainer is responsible for the people under him. He needs to properly vet his employees and supervise them to ensure the horses under his care are treated appropriately.

5. Racehorse trainers teach racehorses.

Once the horse has been turned over to a trainer, school starts. Horses are like kids, they will all learn at different paces and will be better at some subjects than other subjects.

Gate training walk-thru

It is the trainer’s job to know the horse in their care and use the best teaching method to achieve the most success for it. All horses must be taught the basics.
The days of the wild west bronc show won’t be happening with these racehorses. The following fundamentals are taught to all racehorses:

Introduction to riding gear

Racehorse yearlings are handled throughout their life. Most racehorses are led by a lead rope attached to a halter at a young age. Now is the time for them to be introduced to more formal training.

The first step is to introduce the horses to their riding gear. The process occurs over an extended period. He may have a horse blanket placed on him and taken off. Then a bit and saddle introduced.

It’s a slow process, but over time proves to be productive and safe for the horse and handler. These steps commonly occur while the horse is still a yearling.

Learn to be ridden

Once they’re broke to riding gear, riding is the next step. Breaking to ride is another slow process. The first step is to saddle and tack the horse. Next, a person lays across the horses back while in the stall.

Depending on the horses’ reaction, this step is repeated until the horse is comfortable. Once everyone is satisfied, the horse is ready; the rider mounts the horse in the stall, and they are led into the barn breezeway.

Eventually, the horse is mounted and ridden a round pen, then a paddock. After a horse understands the riders’ cues, he starts training in a large pasture and brought along jogging and galloping. Eventually, he is taken to the training track and introduced to riding next to a pony horse.

The most important thing to note, all horses are individuals and require different techniques and time to adjust. There is no one size fits all to training a horse.

Gate training

Gate training is an integral part of racehorse training. The starting gates have a set of rear and front gates. Most horses are not used to being in such tight quarters, so they must have this training early in their careers.

They are first walked into the starting gates from the rear with the front gates open. They are walked straight through a few times until they are comfortable.

Then they learn to stand quietly both by themselves and alongside other horses. Once they turn two, they start learning to break and gallop out of the gates. At this age, it is common for them to start working on speed as well.

Switching leads

Leads in horse terms mean what front foot is out front when the horse is running. A horse running with a right lead will land her left rear foot first on the ground.

Continuing to run in one lead for an extended period tires a horse. Although they naturally switch leads when running, in racing, you want your horse to be running in a left lead in the turns and the right lead in the straightaways. A jockey will cue the horse when to change leads.

Conditioning

Conditioning is the exercise routine used to get a racehorse in shape.
The trainer has to decide on speed, distance, and the number of days needed for each.

A trainer has his preferred method to condition a horse, but he must be able to adjust his approach to the individual. Every horse has a unique personality and has to be treated differently; some will benefit from daily training, and others will need more time off.

A good trainer must recognize these differences and adjust the training schedules accordingly. As the race day gets closer, more adjustments are made to the prospective runners’ workouts.

How many Hours do Racehorse Trainers Work?

Racehorse trainers work long hours almost every day, although only a portion of his time is with a horse. They usually start their day at the barn or training facility at four in the morning and finish before noon.

WORLD'S BEST TRAINERS COUNTDOWN | NOVEMBER 2019

But this is just the beginning of their workday; the remainder of the day is spent with staff, owners, veterinarians, or race track officials. To be a trainer, you have to love the job because it is not uncommon for them to work over 60 hours a week.

How do Racehorse Trainers make money?

Training horses is not a business most people join to get rich. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics for 2019, showed the highest 10% of animal trainers earned more than $56,580 ($25.76 per hour). However, this included all animal trainers. Let’s look at some of the ways trainers earn their money.

Day rate

Day rates are designed to offset expenses associated with keeping a horse. These expenses include bedding for the stall, feed, use of stable equipment and tack, exercise rider, groom, and other employee salaries.

Day rates do not cover veterinarian costs, farrier expenses, medications, jockey fees, and several other incidental expenses. Private trainers (who only train for a sole owner) may be compensated on a set salary. Day rates vary by track but will typically range from $45-$100 per day.

Purse percentage

Trainers and Jockeys typically receive 10% of the purse. (See for an article I wrote about the size of Jockeys.) The purse is usually divided amongst the first five finishers in a race. (See my article on purse money here). These funds are paid directly from the track officials.

How to become a racehorse trainer.

It takes time to become a racehorse trainer. To become a racehorse trainer, a person usually begins in an apprenticeship program, working his or her way up from the bottom. Apprenticeships take time and dedication.

trainer, racehorse,
Morning exercise

Let’s start by looking at the normal progression of jobs a person works on his way to becoming a racehorse trainer.

Hot walker

racehorse trainers,

As the name implies, a hot walker walks horses. They take the horse from a jockey after a workout or a race and walk him. Walking the horse after a workout allows the horse’s body to cool down before he is returned to his stall.

Once the horse is cooled, the hotwalker assists the groom with washing the horse thoroughly before handing it over to the groom for further care. A hot walker is the starting point on the path to becoming a trainer.

Groom

The next step up from the hot walker is the groom. A groom provides daily care for the horses assigned to him. He is typically responsible for four horses.

Upon arrival at the barn, the groom checks the morning schedule. Each horse has there individual training routine. The groom relies on the program to prepare each horse.

Some horses may be on a special diet, others may need specific tack, while others require a rub down. The groom also begins the stall cleaning routine of washing buckets and mucking out stalls

If a horse is working out this morning, the groom prepares him, he wraps the legs if necessary, cleans his feet, brushes him down and saddles, and tacks the horse.

After the morning workout, the groom will reverse the process and check for any physical problems. He typically rubs the horse’s legs and applies a salve or rubbing alcohol and wraps his legs with polo wraps.

The groom usually finishes his morning routine before noon. He will make his way back to the barn later in the afternoon to check on his team and feed them. On the day of his horses’ race, he will lead him to the paddock to be saddled.

Exercise rider

Exercise rider has a physically demanding and dangerous job. They commonly ride six to eight to horses a morning. They must know the horse and be able to apply what the trainer instructs during a training exercise.

Good exercise jockeys can keep a horse at the pace the trainer advises.
Exercise riders learn their mounts tendencies, their energy level, fitness levels, etc.

Often the rider picks up on subtle lamenesses; this allows for issues to be addressed before they turn into serious problems. The duties of the exercise rider require sound judgment and the ability to communicate information concerning health, performance, and temperament accurately to the trainer.

The rider must also have high-level riding skills and the ability to interpret and relay information covering a variety of circumstances. If a groom is not too big, he can move up to exercise rider.

Foreman

The foreman is directly under the assistant trainer, and he is the person in charge of the daily operations of the stable. He delegates the instructions of the trainer or assistant trainer to all the other staff. A foreman at some tracks is permitted under the rules to act for the trainer on race days.

Foreman must have excellent horsemanship skills, be knowledgeable of horses, and have experience of racehorse handling and training methods. They also must have excellent communication skills, and be knowledgable of safety in regards to training and preparation of horses

Assistant trainer

In most states, assistant trainers are required to be licensed. As an assistant, you manage a set of horses under the guidance of the trainer. The assistant should be able to perform all the functions of the trainer.

At this level, the assistant trainer has developed a sound knowledge of all aspects of the industry and has acquired competencies that enable the performance of all tasks and duties associated with running a racing establishment, including

Trainer

The final steps to becoming a licensed trainer usually require the person to have letters of recommendation from other trainers, pass a written test showing that they know about horse anatomy, disease, medication, applicable rules and regulations, and training procedures and equipment.

They also have to pass a practical examination to proving knowledge about horse anatomy, lameness/disease, and care of horses.

Top Racehorse Trainers

The All-Time Top-10 Thoroughbred Racehorse Trainers

  1. Charlie Whittingham, Training horse for almost 50 years he exceeded all others. He trained 252 stakes winners. At the age of 75, his horse Sunday Silence won the Kentucky Derby and went on to win the Breeders Cup Classic.
  2. Woody Stephens- Trained for almost 70 years, he trained 11 Eclipse Award winners, won over a hundred Grade 1 stakes races. Most remembered for winning five straight Belmont Stakes from 1982-1986
  3. Bobby Frankel – Won the Eclipse Award five times. He set the single-season world record for most Grade/Group I victories in 2003 with 25 Grade I wins, a record that stood until in 2017.
  4. Bob Baffert,-won three Kentucky Derbies and five Preakness
  5. D. Wayne Lukas, He holds the record for most Triple Crowns, he has won twenty Breeder Cup races. 
  6. Allen Jerkens, his horses, won more than 200 stakes races
  7. Laz Barrera – He trained horses for almost fifty years, during that time he trained six champions and more than 140 American Stakes race winners. He was the leading money-winning trainer from 1977 to 1980.
  8. Bill Mott-Set the record for the number of victories at a single Churchill Downs meet. Mott ranks fourth in Breeders’ Cup money earned.
  9. Frank Whiteley Jr.-Trained for almost 50 years with successful Triple Crown runs.
  10. Todd Pletcher – is currently the highest money earner, he has won the Eclipse Award 7 times. He won has trained two horses to wins in the Kentucky Derby. He won the Belmont with Tapwrit. (Check out my article on weird horse names here)

Current Top Quarterhorse Trainers in Horseracing?

The following is a list of the top ten trainers for the 2018 season, according to American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). Click here aqha.com for an updated look at the stats)

TrainerAmount Earned
Blane Wood $4,223,385.00
Paul C. Jones $2,128,885.50
James Padgett II- $1,984,161.50
Wesley Todd Giles $1,962,850.00
Clinton R. Crawford $1,731,675.50
Justin W. Joiner $1,694,474.00
Josue Huitron $1,596,939.00
Trey Ellis $1,514,474.00
Jesus J. Carrete $1,514,001.00
Christopher G. O’Dell $1,512,953.50

The 2019 Top Thoroughbred Racehorse Trainers

The following is a list of leading racehorse trainers through May of the 2019 season. Click here for up to date stats.

Trainer2019 Earnings
Steven Asmussen$9,628,165
Chad C. Brown $8,048,001
William Mott $5,958,873
Todd Pletcher $5,906,998
Brad Cox$4,710,637
Michael McCarthy $4,594,088
Bob Baffert $3,939,210
John Sadler $3,696,002
Mark Casse $3,484,894
Jason Servis $3,360,697

Racehorse Trainers Personality

It’s good to know the personality types you have to deal with before meeting prospective trainers. I have found most racehorse trainers to be intelligent, reflective, and driven.

They tend to be analytical similar to an accountant. They are usually not gregarious individuals, so do not be disappointed if they don’t small talk with you. It’s often a “to the point conversation.”

Racehorse trainers can make good money, but they also work hard and have a lot of responsibility. I hope this article provided some information that will help choose your trainer.

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Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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